Nats reportedly in contention to land versatile free agent Ben Zobrist

NASHVILLE - The Nationals have reportedly made it to the final four in the sweepstakes for versatile free agent Ben Zobrist. The Mets, Giants and Dodgers are the other three teams contending for Zobrist, who won the World Series with the Royals this season after coming over from the Athletics in a trade deadline move.

Multiple reports have the 34-year-old Zobrist seeking a four-year deal worth $60 million. He makes his home outside Nashville and is expected to meet with Nationals officials at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center during the Winter Meetings this week.

Ben-Zobrist-Royals-sidebar.jpgWashington reportedly flirted with Zobrist at the trade deadline in July before the Royals acquired him. Aside from pitcher and catcher, Zobrist has played every position during his 10-year career in the majors. He appeared in 69 games at second base for the A’s and Royals last season, and could fill a need for the Nats there. He also played 45 games in left field in 2015 and could spell Jayson Werth for the Nats there.

The switch-hitting Zobrist slashed .276/.359/.450 with 13 homers, 36 doubles and 56 RBIs in 126 games last season. He batted .329 from the right side and .255 from the left side. The two-time All-Star missed 30 games early in 2015 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee.

With Anthony Rendon set to move back to third base and Ian Desmond departing via free agency, the Nationals have to fill openings at second base and shortstop. Yunel Escobar, Danny Espinosa and rookie Trea Turner are candidates for the Nats to plug in. Acquiring Zobrist gives the Nationals flexibility to potentially trade Escobar for badly needed bullpen help. The 33-year-old Escobar is coming off arguably his best season at the plate (.314/.375/.415) but is considered a liability in the field, especially at second base, where he is uncomfortable.

Will the Nationals be willing to give a four-year contract to Zobrist, who turns 35 on May 26? For a team ravaged by injuries last season, Zobrist is that type of interchangeable piece who can be plugged in to prevent issues all over the field.

Note: Want to shoot the breeze with Max Scherzer during a round of golf at spring training? Maybe ask the Nationals ace about his two no-hitters? Major League Baseball, its 30 clubs, MLB Network and MLB Advanced Media are holding a charity auction as part of the Winter Meetings, and a round on the links with the Nationals ace is one of the items up for grabs.

The winning bidder and a guest will join Scherzer for a complimentary round of golf during 2016 spring training in Viera, Fla. Winners are responsible for travel to Viera and hotel accommodations. Date, time and golf course will be determined at a later date.

Among the other auction items is the opportunity to join new Nats manager Dusty Baker and his coaching staff for lunch in the Nationals clubhouse before a 7 p.m. game next season. This package also includes two game tickets, batting practice passes and access to Baker’s postgame press conference.

The auction benefits Stand Up To Cancer, a groundbreaking initiative created to accelerate innovative cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. To learn more, visit www.SU2C.org. This year, the auction will also benefit Do It For Durrett, a charity estabished in the memory of Richard Durrett, the late ESPN.com Rangers beat writer, and the YouCaring page set up for South Florida Sun Sentinel writer Juan C. Rodriguez, who is currently battling brain cancer.

Click here to make a bid in the online auction, which features a variety of unique items and experiences.

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